- Free Trial
- Why ATM
- Course Structure
- Corporate Programs
If you are feeling bored or looking for self-improvement, one of the best thing you can do for yourself is to pick up a new language.
Learning a foreign language allows to experience other cultures more intimately when you are travelling or advance your career significantly. But more importantly, physiological studies have shown that speaking two or more languages improves the cognitive process of our brain. Although many of these attributes may only be apparent in people who speak these multiple languages regularly, people who begin language study only in their adult lives can still reach the same level of fluency as a young learner and still reap the same mental benefits.
Learning a foreign language sharpens your cognitive abilities
Learning Mandarin, for instance, takes your mind through entirely new experiences which enhance your memory, sharpen your cognitive abilities, improve your decision-making skills and increase your attention span. It is the perfect brain exercise. Below are some of the brain benefits of learning a foreign language.
Speaking Mandarin Uses More of Your Brain Power
Learners of Mandarin are often stumped by the different tones in speaking Mandarin. It is indeed one of the greatest difficulties in learning Mandarin. However, it is precisely this difficulty that exercises more of your brain.
According to a study published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by researchers from Peking University, learning a tonal language such as Mandarin utilizes both left and right hemispheres of the brain whereas non-tonal language such as English uses just the left hemisphere.
Researchers analysed brain imaging scans of both Mandarin and English speakers listening to their native languages. That the language centre of the brain, located in the left hemisphere, would light up was expected. However, for Chinese speakers, their right temporal lobe of the brain, specifically the region responsible for processing music, pitch and tones, also lit up. Chinese speakers use intonation to distinguish different meaning of particular words. This forces them to use both temporal lobes of their brain to understand the language.
Writing Chinese Keep the Mind Sharp
The practice of handwriting is a good cognitive exercise that aids the development of motor skills, improve idea composition and expression. The writing of Chinese characters in particular, which involves sequential movement in writing strokes in all four directions (left, right, up and down) to form complex characters, activates neural activity in the working, thinking and spatial memory in the brain of learners.
Learning Chinese May Improve Your Mathematical Concept
In addition, studies have shown that “there are differences in the brain representation of number processing between Chinese and English speakers”. Native English speakers largely employ a language process that relies on the left perisylvian cortices for mental calculation such as a simple addition task, whereas native Chinese speakers instead, engage a visuo-premotor association network for the same task. This could be related to the experience of reading Chinese characters, which are composed of high, nonlinear visual complexity. Chinese learners learn the various strokes and subunits of Chinese characters as well as linking their orthographic, phonological and semantic content. This complexity involves skills such as counting, identifying similarities and differences and grouping. This coupled with the specific linguistic expressions, Chinese speaking children may have gained a greater understanding of mathematical concepts than English speaking children.
As one who speaks both English and Mandarin, I find the expression of fractions as a good example. In English, the fraction ¾ is expressed as “three-quarters”. To better understand the concept of “three-quarters”, one needs to know first what is a quarter. In comparison, in Chinese, ¾ is expressed as 四分之三 (sì fēn zhī sān), or “three of four parts”, which helps the speaker grasp the concept of the fraction more accurately and quickly.
The expression of numbers is another example. In expressing numbers more than 10, the Chinese expression explains the mathematical concept. For example, in saying the number 11, a Chinese speaker would say, 十一 (shí yī), literally “ten one” (ten plus one). In saying 21, it is 二十一 (èr shí yī), literally “two ten one” (two times of ten plus one).
Improves Your Decision-Making Skills
Studies from the University of Chicago indicate that people who speak more than one language are better able to make more analytical decisions when they think through in non-native language. Thus they can avoid ‘loss aversion’, that is being too caught up in the ‘here and now’ to make choices that could profit us in future. Hence, multilingual people have better decision-making skills when it comes to finances.
A possible reason is that a foreign language has less emotional resonance than one’s native language, since we learn the former in classrooms and formal institutions and the latter from family, friends and TV. “People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language might be less biased in their savings, investment and retirement decisions, as they show less myopic loss aversion. Over a long time horizon, this might very well be beneficial,” (Using a Foreign Language Helps Decision-Making)
Also, speakers of a foreign language can pick up non-verbal communication better in a given situation. This enhances their appreciation of the different intricacies of a situation thus are more rational in decision making. On the other hand, monolingual individuals rely more on what is verbal and are less in touch with the nuances and subtleties of a conversation.
Improves Your Memory
Research studies have shown that bilinguals perform better in auditory attention tests than monolinguals although early bilinguals might perform better than late bilinguals.
The cognitive advantages of bilingualism in older adults can lead to slower cognitive aging and the onset of dementia. A lecturer at Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, conducted a research with Dr. Suvarna Alladi of Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, and found that people in India who are bi- or multi-lingual from a young age, on average develop dementia about four years later than monolinguals. One possible reason could be that the brain is trained to be more attuned to auditory information in the process of learning two languages and switching back and forth. This improvement in auditory attention is a measure of concentration and could enable a bilingual to better extract relevant information from a lecture. Bak noted that many drugs aimed at lessening the effects of Alzheimer’s disease work by attempting to improve this attention mechanism.
Increases Your Attention Span
A multilingual person often needs to switch between languages and decides on the appropriateness of using a particular language in a specific situation. This switching, evaluating and applying gives your brain plenty of exercise in focusing, and sifting through information. Thus the brain gets better at concentrating amidst distractions. North Western University’s professor Viorica Marian unearthed this benefit in a study published by the journal Brain and Language. She defines this ability as inhibitory control and describes it as a significant quality which is paramount “whether you are driving or performing surgery”.
Improves Your Communication in High Context Culture
First used by anthropologist Edward Hall, the expressions "high context" and "low context" are labels denoting inherent cultural differences between societies. High-context and low-context communication refers to how much speakers rely on implicit communication and non-verbal cues other than words to convey meaning.
In high-context communication, a message cannot be understood without a great deal of background information. Asian, African, Arab, central European and Latin American cultures are generally considered to be high-context cultures. High-context cultures often display the following tendencies, according to C.B. Halverson’s book Cultural Context Inventory.
• Association: Relationships build slowly and depend on
trust. Productivity depends on relationships and the group process.
An individual’s identity is rooted in groups (family, culture,
work). Social structure and authority are centralized.
• Interaction: Nonverbal elements such as voice tone, gestures, facial expression and eye movement are significant. Verbal messages are indirect, and communication is seen as an art form or way of engaging someone. Disagreement is personalized, and a person is sensitive to conflict expressed in someone else’s nonverbal communication.
• Territoriality: Space is communal. People stand close to each other and share the same space.
• Temporality: Everything has its own time, and time is not easily scheduled. Change is slow, and time is a process that belongs to others and nature.
• Learning: Multiple sources of information are used. Thinking proceeds from general to specific. Learning occurs by observing others as they model or demonstrate and then practicing. Groups are preferred, and accuracy is valued.
A low-context culture relies on explicit communication. In low-context communication, more of the information in a message is spelled out and defined. Cultures with western European roots, such as the United States and Australia, are generally considered to be low-context cultures.
Low-context cultures often display the following tendencies, according to Halverson.
• Association: Relationships begin and end quickly.
Productivity depends on procedures and paying attention to the goal.
The identity of individuals is rooted in themselves and their
accomplishments. Social structure is decentralized.
• Interaction: Nonverbal elements are not significant. Verbal messages are explicit, and communication is seen as a way of exchanging information, ideas and opinions. Disagreement is depersonalized; the focus is on rational (not personal) solutions. An individual can be explicit about another person’s bothersome behavior.
• Territoriality: Space is compartmentalized. Privacy is important, so people stand farther apart.
• Temporality: Events and tasks are scheduled and to be done at particular times. Change is fast, and time is a commodity to be spent or saved. One’s time is one’s own.
• Learning: One source of information is used. Thinking proceeds from specific to general. Learning occurs by following the explicit directions and explanations of others. Individual orientation is preferred, and speed is valued.
In general, cultures that favour low-context communication will pay more attention to the literal meanings of words than to the context surrounding them.
It is important to remember that every individual uses both high-context and low context communication.Often, the types of relationships we have with others and our circumstances will dictate the extent to which we rely more on literal or implied meanings. For example, a speaker from low-context culture will tend to use high-context communication if he/she is with family members.
In learning the language and culture of a high-context language such as Chinese, one will gain more awareness of communication needs of high-context speakers by reading body language and understanding socially acceptable norms and cultures.